The Rewrite

Posted on February 5, 2015 at 5:53 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
Profanity: Some strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Mild
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: February 6, 2015

Sometimes all we want from a movie is Hugh Grant delivering witty, self-deprecating lines about his empty life and bad choices as he learns to find his heart and soul. You know, the cinematic equivalent to eating a pint of Rocky Road ice cream, wearing your comfiest pajamas. And every so often, we are lucky enough to get one. Writer/director Marc Lawrence understands exactly what we want from Grant in a romantic comedy. He gave us the underrated Music & Lyrics (its best moments include a wildly funny, spot-on version of a 1980’s music video and the delightful Kristen Johnson). He wrote “Two Weeks Notice,” in which Grant was so good it was possible to ignore the failures of the script. He even made Grant look good in the otherwise irretrievably awful Did You Hear About the Morgans? Here he has created just the right part for Grant as Keith Michaels, an Oscar-winning screenwriter who has had a string of flops and has now lost his family, his money, his self-respect, and any possible chance of a writing job in Hollywood, for which self-respect is not only not a necessity, but in fact is a liability.

Copyright 2014  Castle Rock
Copyright 2014 Castle Rock

The only prospect Michaels has of cash coming into rather than out of his bank account is accepting an offer to teach screenwriting at a liberal arts college in upstate New York where it rains all the time. The idea appalls him, but his long-suffering agent and his empty bank account persuade him to accept. He arrives determined “to do as little as possible while carrying on with this charade” but be miserable anyway. After he has sex with one of the students he realizes that college girls are lovely and young enough to see him as glamorous. After he insults one of the faculty members (Allison Janney, criminally underused as a humorless Jane Austen specialist who has never heard of “Clueless” or seen any of the movie adaptations, as if there was such a thing), he is reminded that he is, in fact expected to attend class and convey some information and guidance to the students. So, he selects his class on the basis of looks (the girls have to be what for reasons of civility we will just call pretty and the boys have to be what we will call not much of a threat as competition). In other words, he is using the class as a sort of analog version of Tinder.

It turns out that one of the students has written an excellent screenplay, which reminds him that he is capable of recognizing good work and a good opportunity to get back to Hollywood. He sends it to his agent asking her to offer it only if he can produce, not because he has any ideas or expertise but because it is leverage. And it turns out that one of the students is not young and pliable but certainly lovely. Her name is Holly (Marisa Tomei) and she is a single mom, too down to earth to qualify as a manic pixie dream girl, but certainly a life-force, filled with optimism that (thankfully) is not the usual mindless bubbliness but thoughtful and hard-won.

The film never takes itself too seriously, with winks at the audience including Grant’s character buying Jane Austen movies for a colleague (presumably including his own “Sense and Sensibility”) and watching his Oscar acceptance on YouTube (a real-life clip of Grant’s own Golden Globe win). There are no surprises, but sometimes, with a movie like this, that’s just what you want.

Parents should know that this film has very strong language, sexual references and situations including professor/student sex, drinking and drunkenness.

Family discussion: How does the script for this film follow the principals Keith teaches his students? Why is Holly cheerful?

If you like this, try: “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Sense and Sensibility,” and “Music & Lyrics”

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Comedy Movies -- format Romance

Help Save the Rom-Com! Make a 30-Second Rom-Com and Win a Prize!

Posted on January 12, 2015 at 3:17 pm

Did you know there was not one major romantic comedy release last year? What happened to all the Jennifers and Jessicas? All the meet-cutes and misunderstandings? All the quippy best friends and quirky roommates? All the cute pajamas and strolls through the farmers’ market and walks on the beach?

If Hollywood won’t provide, it’s time to crowd-source. Kevin Smith is here to help. Yes, Kevin Smith. Come on, you know he’s just a big old softie who believes in love.

It’s the 30 Second Rom Com Movie Challenge from Studio 360.

The meet cute, the first kiss, the misunderstanding, the chase, the wedding — we all know the scenes that make a romantic comedy both predictable and irresistible.

Your challenge: write and shoot a scene that plays with any or all of those tropes, in just 30 seconds or less.

Your judge: Kevin Smith, DIY master and director of Chasing Amy and Clerks. Win Kevin over with your creative twist on the classic genre. We’ll play the winning movie and have you as a guest on the show on Valentine’s Day weekend.

Extra Credit: 30-Second Rom-Com

STEP 1: Create your film

• Use Vine, Instagram, Super 8, or using any other method to create an original rom-com.
• Your entry must be 30 seconds or less.
STEP 2: Submit your film

• Upload your movie to Youtube or Vimeo — and post the link on the Studio 360 contest page.
• Submit as many movies as you’d like.
• By posting your movie, you represent that: you have the right to post it; that it does not infringe on the copyright of any other person; and that, if you are under 18, you have permission from a parent or guardian to do so. (Be sure to follow Youtube and Vimeo’s Terms of Service.)
• Your video will be posted on our website and may be used in other Studio 360 platforms.
The deadline to be considered for our challenge is Sunday, February 1 at 11:59pm ET.

Kevin Smith will be back on the show to announce a winner.

Good luck, and if you win, don’t forget to thank me in your acceptance speech!

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Contests and Giveaways Romance

Trailer: Sam Rockwell and Marisa Tomei in “Loitering With Intent”

Posted on November 30, 2014 at 3:40 pm

Available on nationwide VOD beginning 12/16 and in theaters January 2015!

When out-of-work-actors Raphael (Ivan Martin) and Dominic (Michael Godere) hustle a prominent New York producer into believing they’ve written a hot movie script, they have 10 days to deliver the goods or lose their last opportunity for a big break. Hoping to escape the bustle of New York City to write in peace, the duo head to the upstate country home of Dom’s sister Gigi (Marisa Tomei). But their writer’s retreat descends into bacchanalian romp when Gigi’s hostile boyfriend Wayne (Sam Rockwell) and his younger brother Devon (Brian Geraghty) bring old flames and simmering grudges to a head for the group. As yearnings for love and familial dynamics threaten to derail their career-making opportunity, will Raph and Dom’s friendship survive the creative process?

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Trailers, Previews, and Clips

Interview: Elan Mastai, Screenwriter of Daniel Radcliffe’s Romantic Comedy “What If”

Posted on August 16, 2014 at 7:49 am

Copyright 2013 CBS Films

Daniel Radcliffe’s first romantic comedy is “What If,” co-starring Zoe Kazan. Radcliffe plays Wallace, a former medical student who dropped out after his romance fell apart. He meets a girl named Chantry (Kazan) who seems perfect, but she has a boyfriend (played by Rafe Spall as Ben).  Wallace and Chantry become friends. Will they ever become more?

I spoke to screenwriter Elan Mastai about the challenges and pleasures of romantic comedy.   He is just as charming as the characters he created.  (Don’t forget to enter the contest for free tickets to see “What If” in the theater.)

Why is it so hard to find a good romantic comedy?

Part of the problem is that romantic comedies are the one genre that we’re all experts in from our own lives. I mean, most of us do not live legal thrillers or space operas or horror stories.  But we all live romantic comedies.  We’re all experts in love and flirtation and missed connections witty banter and bittersweet longing and love. This is the stuff of our everyday lives and for a lot of us it’s the thing that kind of gives our lives meaning and it’s a reprieve from our work life or whatever our personal problems are.  Without getting too philosophical about it, we’re all experts in romantic comedy so we all immediately recognize when one is phony or glib or contrived. And it makes us angry because we know that it’s not the way it feels when it’s really happening to us. The good thing for me, I didn’t set out to revolutionize the genre. I just wanted to write a romantic comedy that was actually romantic and actually funny. We just took the situation seriously with both the comedy but also the emotion of what it really feels like when it’s happening to you.

We in the audience know before the characters do that they’re perfect for each other just from the rhythm of their conversation. 

Yeah, I absolutely agree but at the same time that’s both a marker of a potentially perfect romantic partner and also the marker of a great new friend. And I was interested in the messy line between those things.  When you meet somebody who you just have a great spark with and makes you laugh and gets your sense of humour and makes you feel like you could talk to them forever, that’s also where you are looking for a new friend. And as you get older it gets harder to make new friends because you don’t always have the time sit around and just shoot at the breeze and get to know each other that way. And so I was interested in the idea — if you have that connection with somebody and you know that it’s not going to get romantic because of their personal circumstances, what’s wrong with just being friends, what’s wrong in trying to make the friendship work and going into it open eyes but just saying,  “I’m can to make this work because I’m a grown up, because I like spending time with them?”

Well, the only problem with that is you can go and do something with good intentions but your feelings evolve, circumstances evolve and even in a situation where you went in trying to do the right thing, it can suddenly spiral out of control, emotionally speaking.

One of the hurdles that comes up in designing a romantic comedy is creating the character who is going to be dumped to make room for the happy ending.  He or she has to be good enough that we believe the lead character would like them but not so good we want them to stay together.

First of all I agree completely. I think that a problem with many movies in this genre is that the make the sort of Ralph Bellamy character, the boyfriend character, like such a clearly bad guy, like manipulative or a liar.  They make it so clear that it reflects negatively on the character that’s with them. I mean what would it say about Zoe if she was living with her boyfriend of five years and he was like totally a jerk and obviously a lying cheating scumbag. Why would we invest in her if she has such terrible taste?  I like the idea that this is a totally loving committed relationship and we get why they are together but also see that there’s a difference between her dynamic with Daniel and her dynamic with Rafe. They don’t talk and joke in the same way, but there is love commitment and support.

There are some sparks that she finds with Daniel that she’s obviously missing because she’s drawn toward him. Even though she sets up very clear boundaries early on to make sure that it can’t go anywhere. And I think in real life it’s not the obstacles about internal/external, you know when work takes Ben away from her it’s plot but also to me it’s realistic at a time in your life when you’re balancing out between the relationship you’re in but where you’re work is taking you. And when you’re committed and ambitious to your work, and you feel like it’s good and important work the way Ben does about his work.

I mean he’s got a very different job than Daniel does, Daniel doesn’t care about his job but Ben does and so it’s totally in character that he would go where his career is taking him, and that also he’s totally aware of the potential for damage it can have on his relationship and they’re very upfront when they’re having conversation about it.  He doesn’t want to sacrifice his relationship for his work but it’s also an amazing opportunity and they try to be open and honest with each other about it. That was important for me. I think it is funny because people have very different reactions to Ben and part of that was a divide, it was trying to find the right pitch of a character. Some people think that he’s just like a super nice, sweet, ambitious good guy. Some people perceive sort of like sinister motives or manipulation or controlling elements of this character which I don’t think were intentional, and often say more about the reviewer’s point of viewthan I think we actually are in there.  But that’s life, people are free to make their own interpretation.

I also like that you’re seeing this guy and he’s standing next to this attractive, very beautiful work colleague and even if he hasn’t done anything wrong there is this sort of just like implicit threat or Chantry can perceive it that way if she choose to. And so it becomes a marker of where the trust level is between them. And it’s likewise for him you know to be like actively threatened by Daniel being in her life in being a friend.  That could also imply a lack of trust and so Ben’s character has to decide, does he trust his girlfriend or not and he does.

Ben is aware that Wallace makes Chantry laugh, which is very intimate.

Again that is something that we were all — me as a writer, Michael Dowse as a director, our cast, Zoe and Daniel — that was something that we really wanted to embrace, that very messy and complicated question.  If you’re spending so much time with somebody and you love to be with them and they make you laugh and you’re revealing personal stuff to them and you have an intimacy that’s growing, when does that become cheating? If you’ve never touched, if you have never kissed, if the most physical contact you’ve ever had is a handshake but you’re connecting on a deep, deep level, when does that start counting as cheating?

A bacon and peanut butter and jelly sandwich called Fool’s Gold is an important part of the movie.  Have you tried one?

Yes, many times, many times and I have to admit even the day we made them on set I ate them because I was like, “Oh wow this is so great.”  We hired a chef to make it on camera, so I said, “I’m going to eat this.” Funny story actually, the only two people that tried it on set the day were Daniel and me, and then the props guy told me afterwards sheepishly that they had sprayed it with this weird kind of like lacquer to make it shiny on camera. So we just ate this thing that basically was partially poisoned but it still tasted delicious. I’ve had it many times and I don’t think that Daniel really knows that we were accidentally almost poisoned but the props master.

I think it’s hilarious that you think that whatever they put on the outside is more poisonous than the actual sandwich itself.

As Zoe says in the movie, bacon isn’t even a food; it’s technically just pure fat. Yes, I know it’s terribly unhealthy and really you can’t get through more than a couple of bites. It is delicious but it’s is kind of overwhelming. I go to these parties for the movie and there are plates of Fool’s Gold and trays of nachos and deep-fried pickles, and it’s just like my head has exploded out into the world. But it’s so funny and kind of a rewarding in a perverse way that these weird little obsessions of mine, because they’re in the movie, are being brought out into the world.

One thing I thought was both funny and true in the film is that everybody has got some friend couple that in every possible rational world would be a total train wreck of a relationship and yet it just works in some way that is incredibly frustrating to those of us who think we understand what the rules are.

On the one hand there’s a structural thing that’s I’m doing as a screenwriter, showing two couples who meet within minutes of each other, where one couple lunges into a relationship and one couple gets kind of caught in this complicated complex nuanced sort of emotional limbo. I love the idea of counter-pointing with a couple that was completely going for it. They have a lot of advice but it’s not like their advice is always good. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad. It’s what works for them, but what works for them isn’t necessarily going to work for Wallace and Zoe because they are in different circumstances.

Like in real life, I don’t have any sage-like friends who are like relationship gurus. I have like friends who sometimes give me good advice and sometimes give me bad advice. But I love the idea that of just like one of them like really launching without all the sort of obsessive ethical kind of emotional debate into just for better or for worse they are going to try to make it work and they’re volatile and very sexually frank and they’re full of energy and it’s a great counterpoint, and I think a necessary counterpoint to a nuanced, witty, emotionally resonant story line.

What are you working on next?

We’re adapting an episode of “This American Life” into a movie. It’s a comedy about love, heartbreak, and how it can feel like the worst thing that can happen to you can turn to be the best thing that’s ever happened to you. It’s great and Ira Glass is amazing to work with, exactly as you hope he’d be. He’s a delight to work with, incredibly smart, incredibly insightful about the creative process, and has the best stories.

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Interview Writers
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